By Grief to Heal

At a Good Friday service, a minister once advised:

There are some sorrows too great for the body to bear, and for this reason we have rituals.

If this is true, then perhaps also the converse is true. To confront our deepest wounds, we strip away all semblance of ritual, and connect to our experience through the simplest practice.

For the final workshop of my Soul Play Fall Fest, I participated in Clarity Breathwork with Ashanna Solaris. The thirty attendees almost filled the space. After a brief explanation of the practice, Ashanna passed a crystal around the room, asking each of us to share our name and a few words that described the goal we hoped to achieve. Seated just to her right, I received the stone last. Held in my left hand, the crystal was infused with the energy cupped in my right as I slowly intoned:

Empowered feminine partnership.

But the Father asserted himself.

We were organized in two rows, heads toward the center with a footpath to allow Ashanna and her assistant to reach easily those overwhelmed by powerful emotion. I positioned myself next to the wall, actually a short space from the others.

The practice was simple: a slow rhythmic breathing, described by Ashanna as “feminine.” The inhale was heard as “ah” and the exhale as “oh.” No pauses between – we were to create a deep, steady cycling of energy.

Whether fighting food coma or afternoon lethargy, for the first twenty minutes I had trouble staying awake, much less maintaining the rhythm. Eyes closed, four times or five I heard a female voice in my ear encourage me to “Keep breathing.” Finally I got the knack of it, enjoying a steady cycle that built energy between my hips and solar plexus.

The voice was not satisfied. “Breathe into your heart. Let it rise into your chest.” Allowing my ribs to expand with the inhale, my back arced away from the carpet as my breastbone lifted upwards, falling with the exhale. The blocked energy washed upwards. Running from shoulder to shoulder, an intense band traced my head.

Sorrow awoke in my heart and built through five or so repetitions, and I was there again. My breath caught on the grief of the experience, losing its rhythm. The voice again ordered “Keep breathing.” I went deeper, and then crumbled in psychic agony. Wracked by sobs that broke into moans, the inhale became a brief gasp. I struggled for a minute, the blood-streaked visage filling my mind’s eye, until the voice commanded, “Breathe, breathe.” Slowly the inhale became longer, the exhale less explosive.

I was astonished by the serenity of the face above the broken body. My forearms just below the wrists began to glow with energy. He suffered, but when the animal reactions asserted themselves, he projected them away. That urge to scream, to struggle against the pins that held the limbs against the wood, to flee the pain of metal grinding against bone, these were suppressed and projected forward, finding their way through two thousand years to me.

I screamed, a long, impossibly slow articulation of agony that stretched out for twenty seconds. As the sound echoed in the room, my amazed intellect observed that the lungs were not deflating. Hands took my head and the voice, less assured, again commanded “Breathe!” I did, but the rhythm was marked by short, choked sobs.

I broke again, long waves rolling through me, hips and shoulders seeking freedom from the floor made intimate by the discipline of the practice. A last paroxysm brought my head against the carpet hard enough to thump against the concrete floor. Intellect stilled me with alarm.

And then the serenity transfixed me. I lost bodily awareness, floating in a space of sacred regard. The twelve elders stood guard around me, finding focus in the twelve apostles. My sacred lady turned her tender gaze upon me. Returning to earth, the glow in my forearms brightened and lengthened, and filled my feet. He thought “Father, I offer these wounds to you.” Pulled skywards, my arms and legs left the floor. Tears came, punctuating the impossible serenity and the compassion that sustained it.

The voices around me broke through, others sobbing in grief. I realized that I had triggered this. I came instantly to alertness, again in the room. Rising up on one side, I caught Ashanna’s eye as she ministered to a woman near me, and breathed the question, “Do you want me to help?”

“Whenever you are able.”

I gathered my legs under me, stretched my palms into the heavens, and washed the room with love.

The woman next to me was the most distressed. I won’t describe in detail. Ashanna’s assistant and I spent several minutes with her. Others needed attention, and left alone I advised. “Feel the love in the room. Breath it into your lungs. Now let it flow into your blood, and gather in your heart. Now let it flow from your heart to the rest of your body.” She steadied, and I offered simple praise. “Good job.”

She gasped “You too. Good job.” Then she turned away to her man. Gathered in his sturdy embrace, she immediately steadied.

Ten minutes later, as I delayed waiting for the others to depart so that I could check in with Ashanna, my coparticipant caught my attention. “Thank you. I never would have done it otherwise. You went for it, and I decided to do the same. You filled the room with this incredible energy, and I just went along.”

I’ve been there before, triggered by the passing of the elements or the words of a song. Eyes filled with awe, people huddled together in groups, glancing over shoulders turned against me.

So this was the greatest gift of the weekend: to be told that in that suffering the seeds of healing could be found. That is why it was done. That was its purpose. It is the only way to make meaning of it.

From Grief to Power

A friend was offering a sermon on his birthday yesterday, dwelling on the contradiction between his grief over all the things that we are losing in this era, and the joy he finds in seeing his community interacting. When I had the opportunity to speak, I offered:

Grieving is the prequel to the opening of the door of our heart to a spirit that would otherwise be lost.

That opening is not easy, because the expression of Darwinian selfishness has left so many of them traumatized. But once they have settled in to the experience of being cherished, they look back into the world they have departed and reach out to those left behind, giving them assurance, strength and guidance.

“They” are trees, flowers, fish, birds, mice, whales, children: anything living that is being displaced by a disappearing or polluted ecosystem.

Over the years my conscious welcoming has gathered quite an entourage around me. From that community of displaced souls I draw my power, power that is expressed in the t-shirt I started wearing six months ago to dance celebrations. Across the shoulders are a right and left hand framing a head and a heart. The words are:

Angel Gateways

They just want to be friends.
Please play nicely.

Sorrow Drowned

Matthew 14:13-21 begins:

As soon as Jesus heard the news [of John’s death], he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone. [NIV]

Sister Gloria chose this for our reading last night. She asks two of us to repeat the reading, and when she offered me the first repetition, I knew that I was in trouble. Jesus’ grief came over me, and – struggling to control my breath – the first line came out four words at a time.

I, too, have been drawn to the solace of the water. The day that I wrote Darkened Lives Matter, I was overcome with sorrow and left work to walk the pier at Port Hueneme. Fishermen tended their lines above the rhythmic swells, the ocean full of billions of years of assurance that whatever life it surrendered would be replenished.

But that was not solace enough for Jesus, for in the loss of John – his cousin and only vocal supporter – Jesus had a foretaste of his trial. In the march to Jerusalem that follows, I feel a certain grimness in him, as though hope had been stolen.

For over what had John lost his life? A meaningless confrontation with the queen over the minutia of the law. If not John, then who among his followers would grasp the essence of the New Covenant, the covenant of forgiveness, healing and love?

Then comes the next sentence, and I found his grief braced by the consolation of purpose:

But the crowds heard where he was headed and followed on foot from many towns.

He was not alone. These many had arrived, not just to reflect on the greatness of the one lost, but to tender John’s authority among them to Jesus. Embraced by their faith, Jesus offers them the healing communion with the father.

As the day comes to a close, the disciples counsel him [NIV Matt. 14:15]:

This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.

I did choke on these words. The suggestion itself seemed painful. Jesus’ response as offered in the King James is revealing:

They need not depart.

This is a foreshadowing of the miracle of the loaves and fishes that follows, but I felt something in the emotion below. It was as if to say: “But…I find comfort in them. We need each other, these people and I.”

When the morsels of food are gathered, Jesus “look[ed] up to heaven” and broke the offering. This final act of beseeching was the culmination of the grief. It was a supplication: “Dear Father, give these gathered a sign that they are not alone.”

And so those that partook did so with angels gathered at their shoulders, awash in the infinite ocean of God’s love.


Any tragedy is a wound, an offense to our spirits that threatens our goodness. Particularly in a case such as Professor Klug, we cannot fathom how his caring for Mr. Sarkar could have ended as it did. Our intellect recoils from that connection – it offends our logic and sense of justice.

So we ask “Why?” I will offer you an answer.

For billions of years the history of the universe was a random bashing together of atoms. Even here on Earth, after the first single-celled organisms birthed the promise of meaning, for nearly a billion years every species that arose cast down those that came before it. Darwinian evolution is driven by the wounding of each other by creatures that have no choice. In truth, it is only over the last ten thousand years or so that humanity – that little blink in Nature’s eye – has had the opportunity and resources to express consciously and intelligently an intention to bring love into the world.

This is the struggle before us: to overcome our Darwinian programming. The struggle is not easy – our bodies are designed to produce powerful signals that pull us into animal behavior. In many cases, our science and engineering have given us the means to amplify those tendencies. Sometimes that is pleasant, but today we grieve because one man’s confusion was amplified by a gun.

So we feel pain, and gather together to share strength, as others have gathered in the past. It is important to remember that past, a past from which we celebrate figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Ghandi. While they fall, and fall too often, in each generation technology allows them to reach more and more of us. We can doubt the existence of Jesus, Buddha or Lao Tze, but we cannot doubt that the message of love they shared with the world still inspires people in our day.

Institutions of higher learning such as UCLA, at their best, are a cauldron in which we hone our intentions to do good. In part, we grieve for Professor Klug because he represented the best that UCLA has to offer. The terrifying moments of his death threaten to cast us down into fear. The Darwinian world claws at our hopes.

I wish to offer you my sense of why we celebrate people whose response to fear is to choose to love unconditionally. They possess a certain power, a power that I best understand as this:

Love dissolves the barriers of time and space, allowing wisdom, energy and understanding to flow between us, and embracing us with the courage, clarity and calm that overcomes obstacles and creates opportunity. When we open our hearts to one another, there is no truth that is not revealed. And to those that truly love themselves, no impulse to harm that cannot be turned to the purposes of healing and creation.

It is to that last point that I wish to turn your attention. We can grieve, and that grief can turn to fear. Or that grief can be used for healing.

So to each of you, I would ask that you find a moment to take the hands of a friend and allow their eyes to enter you deeply. In that moment, set aside any future expectations of them, and say “Thank-you for your goodness.”

And to those of you that receive that affirmation, I would ask that you take the power that is woken in you, and to consider Professor Klug. Reach through the moment of fear that consumed him. Visualize his acts of caring as a teacher, father and friend, and offer the words “Thank-you for your goodness.”

And then consider the family that grieves for him. Jesus said “Blessed are those who mourn,” because to grieve is to remember goodness that has been lost. Grieving is our goodness affirming goodness. So visualize that family, and allow your strength to pave the way into a future of healing. “Thank-you for your goodness.”

And last, and hardest: consider Mr. Sarkar, who fell down the well of fear. No person is without merit, even if only in small acts such as tying a sister’s shoe or in recognizing virtue in another. Visualize those moments, no matter how simple, and build strength in them. “Thank-you for your goodness.”

And then open the ears of your heart. Hear the world around you, the Earth that we have abused so terribly. Hear that world awakening to hope. As you walk amidst the trees and over the grass, as the birds chirp and little creatures scurry, hear it calling out tenderly: “Thank-you for your goodness.”

Folding into Sorrow

It some ways, it is getting easier. When the weight settles during the Agnus Dei, I’ve decided to simply go with it. With “takes away the sins of the world,” I raise my hands to my shoulders and push it away into the void. And with “grant us peace,” I motion for the powers to descend from heaven into the space prepared for them. I know that the gestures must seem odd to those around me, but at least I’m not weeping any more.

Still, there are these irrational and inexplicable waves of sorrow in response to the elements of the Easter story. It’s not the crucifixion that causes my throat to clench and my chest to lock against grief. Rather it’s in the middle of this verse from In Christ Alone, which I’ve been looping on the car stereo:

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me

It’s in the declaration of victory that sorrow overwhelms me, accompanied by a sneering voice in the back of my head.

Having gained a certain sense of control over the experience, I am now able to stand back and analyze it. It’s not in the past that the grief lay, not on the Cross. It’s in the future.

And with that realization come to mind those mysterious promises. Of the Law [NIV Matt. 5:18], Jesus says (emphasis added):

For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

Only to announce the New Covenant in the Last Supper.

Of the End of the Age, Jesus promises [NIV Matt. 24:34] (emphasis added):

Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.

And on the cross to the repentant thief [NIV Luke 23:43]:

Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.

Finally surrendering life with [NIV John 19:30]:

It is finished.

In Tyranny Vanquished by Love, I explain that the dimming of the sun on Good Friday was not an eclipse, it was the sun pouring its power into the Savior. What was that power used for? The only way to reconcile these statements above with the iniquity of modern human existence is that Jesus was unbound from time. The power he was granted was guided into the future by his mercy and love, seeking relentlessly for an opportunity to realize the kingdom of peace.

So Easter was not two days later to him as it was to his followers. Rather, as Peter suggests [NIV 2 Peter 3:8-9]:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

So now I understand: the reason that I feel so much grief in the Resurrection is because we are at the turning point in his journey. The wall of pain stands right in front of us. The final resistance of sin, having consumed all the available resources, is flagging. It is ours to walk the narrow path, to pierce that veil with love, and bring him home to us.

And then send him back to rise from the grave and celebrate love’s victory with his dearest friends.


Darkened Lives Matter

I experienced it first through the grace of a young Caribbean prostitute that I know only as “Princess.” She opened her heart to me during a dance celebration, and I saw spread before me the cane fields, the hearts of the slaves calling out for justice. The only offering I had for them was a caress of inadequate consolation.

“You are not forgotten.”

What else would have been expected, two thousand years into the arduous working out through the flesh of our dependency on sin? What would it be like, to return to that? The familiar molten tears of shame and grief – “they suffer in silence in honor of MY promises!” To see the long years of suffering under the lash set against those few hours of torture. “Who am I?” The tearing at the heart as they shed their burdens, passing through that narrow gate into the kingdom of peace. The great cry, as I lay on the floor consumed by the desolation of the cross, screaming “Whyyyyyyyy!?!? WHYYYYYYYYYYYYY!?!?!”

These thoughts tormented me this morning as I listened to Amy Grant sing “I’m With You.” Recalling the woman that surrenders her child for a few coins in Master’s pocket, weeding the fields where the shoots sprout:

Love is a hunger, a famine in your soul
I thought I planted beauty but it would never grow
Now I’m on my hands and knees
Trying to gather up my dreams
Trying to hold on to anything

Of the genteel middle class, confronting the barbarity of the public lynching:

You do your best to build a higher wall
To keep love safe from any wrecking ball
When the dust has cleared we will
See the house that love rebuilds
Guarding beauty that lives here still

That beauty, in contradiction of the claims of those that ridicule faith, being found in the great convocation in the heart of Christ, the conviction of the faithful overwhelming the scientific fact that for the vast majority their thoughts were not found worthy of recording:

Who can say I’m left with nothing
When I have all of you, all of you
In the way you always love me
I remember

Yes, you were forlorn in a world dominated by those that pillage the fruits of love. But you tendered your devotion to Christ’s promise:

You and me, me and you
Where you go, I’ll go too
I’m with you
I’m with you
Until your heart finds a home
I won’t let you feel alone
I’m with you
I’m with you

Oh, take courage in the remembrance of that future! As Martin Luther King Jr. testified:

And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!